ICE HOCKEYWIGHTLINK Raiders saw their English National League play-off dreams come crashing down around them last weekend, as Chelmsford Chieftains ended their run at the semi-final stage.
The side, missing Daniel Pye and more crucially, top scorer and import Joe Rand, who was away for a prior engagement, lacked attacking teeth, and Chelmsford made them pay.
After so many encouraging performances towards the end of the season, there was an air of nervous expectation among the crowd at Ryde Arena on Saturday for the first leg.
But the tiny contingent who travelled down from Chelmsford were the ones smiling after the mainlanders took a 4-1 lead.
They made the perfect start when Raiders’ defence was caught napping, and Chelmsford’s import, Jakob Klima, netted on a breakaway with less than 90 seconds on the clock.
At the other end, Raiders looked a little lost on the attack, and failed to really test Clements in the Chelmsford goal. So it was no surprise that with 12 minutes gone, Chelmsford raced up the other end and doubled their advantage.
Three minutes later, however, Raiders managed to make a breakthrough, and it was the easiest goal they had scored all season.
After a solid build-up, Dan Murdy put in a powerful shot on goal, which Clements failed to stop with his leg pads. The puck crept out behind him and Conor Pollard had the simple task of tapping in.
Raiders had momentum and really pressed for an equaliser but Chelmsford did everything to stop them, and with the referee opting for a softly-softly approach, took full advantage.
They eventually conceded a penalty in the 18th minute, surprising given the full-on physical pace of the game, but Raiders failed to make the most of it and Chelmsford held their lead.
A goal in each of the remaining periods sealed a solid first-leg win, and in Raiders’ fans hearts, they knew the season was over.
The second leg took place on Sunday and, in front of a loyal band of travelling supporters, gave it everything they had.
But clawing back a three-goal deficit at Chelmsford’s home rink — traditionally a tough place to get a result — was always going to be difficult.
Klima scored again in the first period to make it 5-1 on aggregate, before he netted his second a minute into the second to make it 6-1 overall.
Richard Facey narrowed the gap on the half hour, but it took until four minutes into the final session before they could narrow the gap further. Man of the match Damon Larter scored on the powerplay, assisted by Dominic Hopkins, although this effort was soon cancelled out, making it 7-3.
A brilliant goal from former Raider Alan Green was quickly cancelled by a Nathan Taylor goal. But Gary Clarke had the final say, netting a scrappy goal with two minutes left to seal it.
The club’s end-of-season awards night takes place tomorrow (Saturday) at Ryde Arena, 7.30pm start.